OUR PHILOSOPHY

Farming is an avenue through which we can practice ecological conservation and regeneration. This means building the physical, biological, and chemical health of our soil through cover cropping, crop rotations, low impact tillage, and basic mineral soil amendments.

We love seeing ladybugs, praying mantises, bees, and wasps do their thing and we do our part in making sure they have a safe environment. By working without synthetic fertilizers, sprays, or pesticides and using techniques that work in conjunction with nature, we aim to improve soil health and ecosystem diversity.

As a vocation, farming takes skill, knowledge, dedication, patience, humour, and humility. We believe that the talented people who work with us in our endeavour deserve a fair wage, positive work environment, skills training, and great respect.

We want to have a workplace where our family (furry and non-furry, big and small) can run around, dig in the dirt, splash in puddles, sing in the rain, and discover the world of plants and animals. We want our little girl to know that women can and do farm, drive tractors, build things, lift things, crunch numbers, love science, take charge. We want life to be joyful, full of curiousity and wonder, and engaged.

OUR PRODUCE

We believe in growing food with flavour. This starts with healthy soils but also means choosing varieties (both old and new) bred for tasting good rather than shipping or storing well. In our relatively balmy climate, we grow year round- planting and harvesting in season for peak freshness and taste.

Sadly, our stores are filled with nameless veg- “white onion, potato, zucchini”- and food that looks but doesn’t taste the part- “heirloom type tomatoes”.

On our farm you’ll find a mix of heirloom favourites, lesser known varieties from around the world, indigenous Southern African crops, and newly bred specialties that bridge great flavour and viable farming.

A few of our favourite varieties:

Mokum carrots – While rainbow carrots are all the rage, we focus on this most carroty carrot. Slender, orange, crispy, thin cored, and oh so sweetly carrot in taste; Mokum is a great example of why “hybrid” can also mean flavour. Although it might look a bit like a normal storebought carrot, you won’t find this one in any big retailer; its tops are too fragile for mass harvests keeping it in the domain of small-scale farmers. We have our fingers crossed that this variety will stick around- the purchasing power of small farmers might not be enough to keep the seed breeder motivated to stock it.

Striped German tomato – Covered in gorgeous red, orange, and yellow stripes; this hefty heirloom is so beautiful I always feel bad cutting one open. The firm and juicy flesh is just the perfect mix of tart, sweet, and tomato flavours. Possibly the most famous crop for heirloom fruit/veg, a great tomato is indeed incomparable to the store bought red orbs. For the farmer trying to grow them, it’s often obvious why large-scale growers shun them- fickle, disease prone, lower yielding, poorer storability. To minimise these genetics, we will be grafting our heirloom tomatoes onto hardier root stock. We save seed from our heirlooms, picking the best of the season’s plants to carry their genetics to the following season.

Habanada pepper – Imagine biting into a Habanero chilli and tasting all the smoky deliciousness without having to grab a pitcher of milk; that’s the Habanada pepper. A Habanero look alike with its rich, almost translucent orange flesh; the Habanada represents the coming together of chefs, farmers, and seed breeders through field observation and years of selection and DNA analysis. It demonstrates what modern seed breeding can be. Its tidy bushy growth, consistent yields, and good short-term storability make it a farmer’s friend.

THE TEAM

Johannes. A lifelong grower of plants, Johannes has a keen eye for plant health, a knack for fixing tools, dedication to learning and doing things right, and an amazing positive outlook on life. He holds the farm together when the others are distracted by Willow.

Jaco. Brought into farming by default (he thought he married a public health specialist), Jaco has discovered that driving a tractor and helping on the farm are more rewarding than staring at Excel spreadsheets. He also brings a keen business mind and strategic clarity to the farm, helping us make good on farming profitably.

Iming. After a decade plus of NGO and public health work, I realised that my desire to work in socially and environmentally meaningful work that challenged my brain and brought me outdoors, could be satisfied by turning a lifelong hobby into the vocation of farming. After a summer of volunteering on farms in New York’s Hudson River Valley and a full season apprenticing at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, I’ve taken the plunge to start the journey of farming in Cape Town.

Cassiem. Reliable, efficient, and with a great attention to detail; Cassiem is the steady hand that gets things done and done well. Quiet and introverted, Cassiem is always observant and keen to learn.

The Menagerie. In the womb for the very earliest stages of the farm and born into our first busy spring, Willow keeps things in perspective when the tomatoes die, the drought hits, or the winds never cease blowing. We are looking forward to watching her grow with the farm. The fur babies Sprout and Frankie have their respective roles of farm supervisor from shady corners and bird/squirrel chaser while Kaydee watches from above.

The Tiny Critters. Above ground, we rely on a whole host of insects and animals to keep pests in check and pollinate our vegetables. Below ground, an intricate network of organisms breaks down compost and cover crop, facilitates our plants’ nutrient uptake, and develops our soil structure.

EAT OUR FOOD

Restaurants.
We like having a direct relationship with our restaurant customers and have started small to make sure we can deliver on quality while embarking on this farming adventure. As we grow, we will take on a few (still small in number) more partnerships with chefs who value local food grown well.

Community.
Some of our produce, via local NGOs, goes to soup kitchens, the health clinic, creche’s, and seniors in Imizamo Yethu township. In the future, we may look at farm days for sales to the broader community.

OUR PARTNERS

People often look over the fact that farming involves a wide range of knowledge and skill. Just like you wouldn’t expect a painter to plumb your house, we rely on partners/suppliers who specialize in components of farming like composting, soil testing, and seed breeding.

Our restaurant/chef customers are partners in eating in season, using quality produce, and valuing food that is grown well.

We realise and celebrate that farms are part of, and a mechanism for, community. We love our big village of Hout Bay, for all its issues, conflicts, and quirks, and look forward to discovering our place in the mix once we get more settled into our farming enterprise.

THE MAKING OF A TURNIP ON OUR SMALL SCALE FARM

55-60 days to harvest :

As winter turns a corner, a gap in the rains open, and the soil starts to dry out; we head out to the fields to take samples of our soil which are sent to the lab for chemical analysis. Based on these results, the results of our compost analysis, and the nutrients projected from our cover crop, our calculations of basic amendments (magnesium, sulfur, etc) are made.

Triangulating the ideal seeding date, gaps in rain that allow for proper soil conditions, and the need to leave a few weeks to allow for decomposition of cover crops; we time the mowing and incorporation of our winter cover. These plants have been in the ground since the previous fall, capturing nutrients that would otherwise leach out, adding nutrients and feeding the microscopic soil world once decomposed. Done too early and we lose some nutrients, done when too wet and we damage the physical soil structure and biological life, done too late and we miss seeding windows.

30- 40 days to harvest :

Adding the pre-calculated amendments and compost, we use a rotary harrow to stir rather than flip the soil, mixing things together while also shaping our beds and minimizing our impact on the life underground. Good soil to seed contact is key in successful germination. A final raking of the beds ensures that sticks, chunks, and other debris that might prevent seeds from nestling into to soil are removed and simultaneously kills off any tiny weeds hoping to make a quick appearance.

Farming with diverse crops means tools that improve efficiency while being relevant for many plants. Luckily, there are a few companies specializing in tools for the small-scale farmer. Using a Jang seeder, we are able to seed meters of beds at a walking pace, saving our backs for later days. In order to maintain a supply of baby sized turnips for several months, our planting plan caters for bi-weekly plantings. Thirty plus days (varying based on planting date) from today, we should be seeing the first of our turnips ready for harvest.

Plants are most susceptible to pests when they are small, sick, or stressed. By keeping our soil healthy and planting in season, we reduce the likelihood of sickness and stress. To protect them when they are small, we use a very light floating row cover placed over them from just after seeding. This cover allows water and light through while keeping pests out. In the case of these turnips, the row cover will be left on for their entire time in ground.

15 days to harvest :

With a crop that is in the ground for as short a period as these turnips, at most we will hoe to control weeds once. There are many tasks to get done on a diversified farm and spending time hoeing a plant that is soon to come out of the ground (and easier to weed once it does), doesn’t make much sense. In order to make hoeing as effective as possible, we have some Elliot Coleman designed long handled hoes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The driving thought behind these hoes is that every gram of weight saved on the tool, and every angle of improvement, means less effort for each of many thousands of hoe movements a season. Over the course of a lifetime of farming, this makes a huge difference!

Harvest day!

First thing in the morning, while the air is still cool, we do all of our harvests. If the crop has residual heat from the field, it takes longer to cool down in our cold room and doesn’t last as long. Since these turnips are sold at a particular size, we look through the beds for any that are ready, taking them from field to shade as quickly as possible. Any bad leaves are removed to compost and the rest of the turnip, tops and all, are washed either on our root washing table if there are many or by hand in our sink if there are few. Then, as quickly as possible the crop is moved into our cold room ready for delivery in a day or so in our reusable bins (no packaging waste here!).

A few months post first harvest :

Each bed section will be seeded a few times since the turnips ripen relatively quickly. Once the weather heats up and the flavour drops off, these beds (along with others in this crop rotation) will be planted to our summer cover crop mix. This summer cover survives with little water while protecting the soil, generating carbon and nitrogen for future crops, and providing organic food for the soil microbiome.

CONTACT US

The Farm

We are situated in Hout Bay, Cape Town.

Email

info@meusefarm.com

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